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Government & Politics

Hogan convenes meeting with supporters to discuss possible White House run

Gov. Larry Hogan works the crowd at the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s annual Buy Local Cookout in Annapolis. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Gov. Larry Hogan continues to take tentative steps toward seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

On Thursday evening, Hogan convened a meeting of about 50 supporters and donors in an Annapolis hotel ballroom and served them cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, to discuss his prospects and his timetable for making a decision, according to several people who attended or were briefed about the gathering.

The group heard from Thomas Kelso, Hogan’s longtime campaign chair who is Hogan’s appointed chair of the Maryland Stadium Authority; David Weinman, who is running Hogan’s political organization, An America United; and Russ Schriefer, a Republican media consultant who works for Hogan and has experience at the presidential level with the campaigns of President George H.W. Bush, President George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney. The governor also spoke.

The thrust of the conversation was that Hogan has a potential path to victory in the Republican nomination scrum, and that he’s preparing to take some preliminary steps to get a campaign off the ground. But people who were at the meeting emphasized that the governor hasn’t made a final decision to run for president and has yet to even set a timeline for making that decision.

Hogan has hinted at a 2024 presidential run for several months but has said publicly that he is focused on his last few months at Government House and won’t make a final decision until he leaves office in mid-January. But he has maintained a busy campaign schedule this summer and into the fall, including a stop at the State Fair in Iowa, home of the first presidential caucus, and stumping for Republican candidates in several states. Hogan has continued to be a regular presence on national political chat shows, and recently penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal about America’s role and influence in the global economy.

Hogan is scheduled to speak Wednesday evening about bipartisanship at the Harvard Kennedy School of government, in a conversation moderated by former Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R), a Kennedy School fellow. And he’s making a return trip Thursday morning to “Politics and Eggs,” a regular breakfast for aspiring national leaders hosted by St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. Hogan also spoke there in the spring of 2019, as he pondered challenging President Trump in 2020.

An America United has had a fundraising event on the books for Nov. 30 at Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover for several weeks, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that Hogan may publicly tease his White House ambitions then. Ticket prices start at $150.

That event will be preceded by a VIP reception earlier in the evening for another Hogan entity, the Better Path Forward Political Action Committee, where ticket prices start at $1,000. That PAC is described as the national equivalent of Change Maryland, the entity Hogan created more than a decade ago to critique then-Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and served as the vehicle to organize his political activities before he ran for governor.

Hogan hopes to raise at least a million dollars by about Nov. 30, two participants in Thursday’s meeting said, and would attempt to ramp up fundraising ahead of any presidential run.

This could follow the pattern of Hogan’s announcement for governor nine years ago. He hosted a large party at the Maryland Republican Party semi-annual convention in November 2013, stating the likelihood that he would run for governor the following year. A formal announcement came about two months later.

So it seems conceivable that Hogan could broadly discuss his political plans at the Nov. 30 event, and flesh them out with a formal announcement a few months later, sometime after he leaves office in mid-January.

At a minimum, participants in Thursday’s meeting said, the gathering in Annapolis was an attempt to show that Hogan is aiming to burnish his legacy in the months ahead and wants to make sure that his most devoted supporters are on board and ready to spread the word. Weinman, the executive director of An America United, declined to comment.

According to people who attended Thursday’s meeting, Hogan operatives laid out what they see as the governor’s potential trajectory in 2024, and asserted that President Trump’s stranglehold on the GOP is diminishing, due to his legal entanglements, electoral failures, and waning influence overall.

Hogan advisers suggested that the first-in-the-nation presidential primary in New Hampshire, an independent-minded state where voters are allowed to take either a Republican or Democratic primary ballot, could be especially fertile ground for a possible Hogan bid. Hogan has built his political brand — and widespread popularity at home — by portraying himself as a common-sense conservative who tries to avoid partisan confrontations. He is also one of the few potential Republican candidates for president who has offered a consistently full-throated critique of Trump’s administration and political tactics.

Hogan’s flirtation with a presidential run comes as several other Republicans are well into their deliberations about 2024. The Washington Post reported last week that Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), who was just elected in 2021, recently hosted a donor retreat in Charlottesville, Va., to weigh his potential strengths as a nationwide candidate in 2024. And a dozen other potential candidates for the GOP nomination, including Trump, have been criss-crossing the country helping fellow Republicans and collecting political chits.

Hogan’s meeting last Thursday included several Maryland business leaders who have been longtime supporters of his political career, according to participants, including Leonard Berger, who until recently owned the Clarion Hotel in Ocean City; Scott Rifkin, who owns several medical businesses and is publisher of the Jewish media website J’more; Daniel Colton, a Prince George’s County real estate developer; John von Paris, a trucking magnate who is a Hogan appointee on the Maryland Transportation Authority, and Gary Mangum, the former CEO of a chain of nurseries.

At least three registered Annapolis lobbyists were also on hand, along with some Hogan staffers and political advisers, including Amelia Chassé Alcivar, his State House chief of staff.